MADISON, Ill. -- The arrival of the Stanley Cup at World Wide Technology Raceway for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was a perfect synergy for racing fans and Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues.
Takuma Sato, driving the No. 30 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won the IndyCar race over Ed Carpenter by .0399 seconds, but that was only a co-headline event Saturday for the 42,000 fans who showed up at the racing oval just east of downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch that has hosted this race in each of the past three years.
Several hours earlier, Pietrangelo, the Blues captain, emerged from the throng of attendees carrying the Cup, flanked by Parayko and Barbashev. They were greeted with a thunderous roar as the crossover between hockey and racing fans was on full display.
It was Pietrangelo's second day with the Cup. He was the first player to hoist the trophy when St. Louis won the first championship in its 51-season history, and on July 14, he had his first day with the trophy in his hometown of King City, Ontario, playing a round of golf and sharing it with his triplets.
For Parayko, who was grand marshal of the event and took a spin in Honda's "Fastest Seat in Sports," a two-seat IndyCar just before the green flag, it was a unique opportunity to share the trophy not only with fans, but also with his friend and vacation buddy, second-generation driver Graham Rahal.
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"I think it's cool when sports collide. It's extra special for Alex and I to bring it for Graham," Parayko said. "We've spent a little bit of the summer together and he's given me the best hospitality every time I've come to the racetrack, so he's obviously a guy I follow and watch. It's exciting. It's cool for us as a team and obviously for the whole city of St. Louis. We were excited to share [the Stanley Cup] with them."
It's not uncommon for athletes from different sports to befriend one another, but few in IndyCar have embraced hockey like Rahal, a native of Columbus, Ohio. Rahal has acquaintances throughout the NHL and considers himself a diehard fan of the Blue Jackets.
He knows the history and tradition of the Stanley Cup and likens it to IndyCar's own Borg-Warner Trophy, which is presented annually to the winner of the Indianapolis 500, a race his father, Bobby Rahal, won in 1986.
"It's awesome. The two times I've seen the Stanley Cup have been in St. Louis, first for the Winter Classic (in 2017) and now for the race," Rahal said. "There's only a few that stand above the rest. The Stanley Cup and the Borg-Warner Trophy, not only for what they represent, but the size and stature of them. Alex and Colton have come every single year we've raced here, but to have them come with the Cup is extremely special."
At first glance, hockey and racing may not have much in common, but if you ask Parayko, who grew up racing dirt bikes in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, what can be learned from studying a very different sport close up, he immediately references teamwork.
"I just think the team dynamic is huge for both of us, just being on the same page. We were in last place in the middle of the season, we didn't fall apart, we stayed together as a team," Parayko said. "You watch these guys work on the cars, watch Graham talk about the car, all the team members working on it, kind of coming together, I think that's the biggest thing."
The Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 2, 2019, but finished the regular season 30-10-5 to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs before defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games in the Final to win the Cup.
And what about hand-eye coordination? Surely IndyCar drivers must rate themselves higher than hockey players, right? Not according to Rahal.
"[Colton and I] played golf together in Tahoe, a mini vacation for a couple days," he said. "I had him on the tee box, I was throwing balls at him, he could hit them. I certainly could not do that. It was like a pass on ice, a one-timer. 'What if I lobbed this at you, could you get it?' He got it."
Although the race didn't go as planned for Rahal -- he dropped out late because of a mechanical failure and finished 18th -- the on-track action was a success for everyone involved: the drivers, the racing community and the Blues players.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to be associated with the St. Louis Blues. What a great Cinderella story," said John J. Bommarito, president of the Bommarito Automotive group and title sponsor of the event. "We work really closely with them to team up on events like this. You've got to work in tandem. What an unbelievable way to showcase not only our town, but also the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues."
Photo Courtesy: Honda